I probably had an imaginary friend when I was younger, and so did you. Yes, you, reading this. I doubt anyone else knew my imaginary friend, and at some point I guess they just left, and life went on.
But what if that imaginary friend had substance? What if you lived in a world where the government is scared of imaginary friends, and if your imaginary friend starts to go "rogue", the authorities swoop in and get rid of them?
In Who Framed Klaris Cliff? that's the world Joseph lives in. Imaginary friends are seen as a potential threat, and Joseph's unfortunately just got one. Klaris really belongs to Flea, his best friend Rocky's little brother, but for some reason she's migrated and is now talking to Joseph too.
When Flea's dad calls the authorities about Klaris, Joseph and Flea have just days to try and prove Klaris isn't guilty of all she's accused of, otherwise they'll both have to have the Cosh - a brain-zapping surgery that will get rid of Klaris.
Original, brilliant, moving, funny, sad - just the start of the list of words I could use to describe Who Framed Klaris Cliff? I absolutely adored this book, which is Sheehan's debut. From its characters to its pacing, Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is a masterfully written children's novel, which will also appeal to adults.
Firstly, Sheehan's characters are brilliant. Joseph's in that awkward stage of teenagedom where he's "finding" himself. Rocky, his best friend, is really annoying and brash and just such a boy. Flea is one of those kids who's all skin and bones, cute and awkward and very, very young but very, very wise all at the same time. Joseph's dad is that lovely guy who's trying to do his best for his son, trying to be cool, just trying. And there's more, so many more characters that are clearly drawn. The great thing about Sheehan's characters is that I could picture all of them, and more than that, I could picture people just like them that are in my life or that I have encountered.
The concept of imaginary friends having some substance is an intriguing one. It's just close enough to reality to be scary and pretty realistic, but far enough removed that you can read Who Framed Klaris Cliff? without being totally terrified. This isn't dystopian fiction in the way The Hunger Games is, and it's not genre fiction like Twilight. This is a children's story in the tradition of great children's stories from authors like Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton.
Talking of Blyton, there were moments in this book that really reminded me of reading Blyton's books when I was younger. Scenes where Joseph and Flea are doing their investigating thing made me recall the Secret Seven or Famous Five mysteries. The pacing and the thrill was exactly the same.
The novel wasn't just thrilling, it was a real rollercoaster of emotion. There are some really funny parts, especially those involving Rocky, and the camaraderie between Joseph and his dad is sweet and full of love and good humour. But Who Framed Klaris Cliff? does have darker moments, and some very sad ones. It's one of those books that can teach children about life and its myriad emotions.
Who Framed Klaris Cliff? doesn't fit easily into any boxes, apart from the box containing utterly brilliant books. I absolutely adored this novel, and will be pressing it upon friends and relatives. Give it a go, and I hope you're as enamoured as I am.
•Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is out on Febraury 6.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Oxford University Press, for review. This did not affect my review.